A New Space is Soothing and Stimulating the Senses of Senior Patients

With support from St. Joseph’s Healthcare Foundation’s Patient Comfort & Kindness Grants, a new multi-sensory room offers an interactive therapeutic environment to create meaningful experiences and enhance overall patient well-being.

Earlier this month, staff from the Therapeutic Recreation program at St. Joe’s hosted an open house to celebrate the creation of a new multi-sensory room designed to support senior patients, including those living with Alzheimer’s, dementia or other physical and/or cognitive impairments.

The doorway leading to the sensory room stands out at the end of the hallway, where a lush floor-to-ceiling park landscape invites patients to enter and explore. “We selected this particular wall mural through patient engagement,” says Susy Marrone, Senior Recreation Therapist. “Our staff narrowed it down to a few photo options and invited our patients to make the final decision. They often tell us it reminds them of walking in Gage Park,” she adds.

Inside the room, under some port-hole wall decals that allow the viewer to peek into an underwater world, a nearby shelf holds a weighted baby, and a responsive animatronic dog and cat just waiting to be cuddled and held. These therapy dolls and stuffed animals offer realistic movements and sounds that resemble infants and real-life pet companions. With built-in sensors, they respond to motion and touch, inspiring smiles, fond memories and joy.

Thick bundles of flexible fiber optic strands lie across an armchair and can be bent in shapes for tactile stimulation. These coloured strands create a soothing, interactive experience that supports attention and focus.

The multi-sensory room was made possible through funding from our Foundation’s Patient Comfort and Kindness Fund. Every summer, we invite our staff – on behalf of their units and departments – to submit applications for a grant of up to $5,000 to help cover the costs of items that are not eligible for government funding, but are essential to improving the care patients receive at St. Joe’s. The grants are made possible through generous donations made by our community of donors and friends, and Hospital staff members, too. In fact, over the last three years, an anonymous donor known as The Ever Hopeful Fund has gifted a total of $350,000 to help our Foundation grant as many requests as possible.

From an interactive projector that casts familiar nature scenes onto the adjacent wall, to a Bluetooth speaker capable of playing everything from beloved songs to sounds from nature or a crackling campfire, all of these elements help patients to have a brief reprieve from the clinical environment of the Hospital where they receive care.

Weighted blankets can help to relieve stress and anxiety, while for another patient, activity panels and a basket of fidget toys offer a variety of stimulating surfaces, colors, shapes and activities that can support fine and gross motor development as well as hand-eye coordination through play.

Visits to this patient-centred space are facilitated by a staff member from the Therapeutic Recreation team. All of these outlets and amenities help our recreation therapists to support patients when they’re experiencing anxiety, agitation or when staff simply want to elicit positive emotion and make a patient’s time at St. Joe’s more engaging.

“This new space offers the opportunity for our senior patients to get out of their rooms, have a change of scenery and interact with others,” Susy explains. “The response to this space has been overwhelmingly positive and we are so grateful to the Foundation and donations from our generous community that allow us to create this relaxing therapeutic space to support our senior patients.”

To help bring comfort to St. Joe’s patients, make a gift today by joining our Patient Comfort and Kindness Club. And for our readers who work at St. Joe’s, this year’s application window for a Patient Comfort and Kindness Grant opens in early July, so keep an eye out for an email coming your way soon!